FILM NOTES: KONG: SKULL ISLAND

So, there I was at a screening of Kong: Skull Island at a IMAX theatre with my 3D glasses jammed over my regular glasses. Get ready for some fantastic action whispered my better half. I could sense the excitement in the theatre and it looked like folks were really looking forward to watching this picture.

Kong: Skull Island is directed by Jordan Charles Vogt-Roberts and has a stellar cast of  Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Riley and others.

The first 20 minutes of the film was interesting, but after that I had a hard time watching it. What was the film about? Was it a love story between the leading male and female protagonist? Or, was it a fight between man and ape? Or, was it a quest to find the secret of Skull Island? The film script is weak is one way to put it. What kept me engaged was the fantastic music track scattered throughout the film.

After 118 minutes I was glad that the film was over. It is a pity that Hiddleston, Goodman and Larson were under utilized in the film. Riley was the one shining star of the film.

And, what did my better half think of the film? He was a tad disappointed.

May I point you to Peter Bradshaw’s review of Kong:Skull Island? Only de-evolution can explain this zestless mashup writes Bradshaw. It is hard not to concur with his view.

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VIDEO: LUCAS HEDGES ON MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, KENNETH LONERGAN AND ACTING

Lucas Hedges is a fine, fine actor. I sat down to speak to Hedges about his role in Manchester By The Sea, Kenneth Lonergan, his new film with Martin McDonagh, acting, music and Harry Potter. Hedges has known Lonergan since he was a kid and yet was very nervous when he audioned for the film. He auditioned 5 times before he found out that he had bagged the role in Lonergan’s film. Tune in to find out how Hedges was nervous.

Manchester By The Sea is a sharply nuanced film that gets under your skin and makes you a little uncomfortable. It is bleak, tragic & funny. Hedges provides the much-needed humor in the film. The film is about love, tragedy, and circle of life and is written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, who also wrote the screenplay for Analyze This and Gangs of New York among others.

The film is a “masculine melodrama that doubles as a fable of social catastrophe,” writes AO Scott of The New York Times. “Manchester-by-the-Sea is a study of family dysfunction and the worse loss imaginable,” writes  of The Guardian.

  • Title: MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
  • Running Time: 137 minutes
  • Status: Limited Released on Nov 25, 2016 in SF Bay area & expanding in first weeks of December
  • Country: USA
  • GENRE: DRAMA

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PODCAST: FILMMAKER BARRY JENKINS ON THE MAKING OF “MOONLIGHT”

Barry Jenkins @kamlashow.comFilmmaker Barry Jenkins Moonlight is an elegant and brilliantly evocative film about coming-of-age and love.This is one of the best films I have seen so far this year. There is an aura of quiet grace about Moonlight that makes  you think long after the end credits have rolled. You go away wondering what is that little act of help and love you can do today to help someone.

Moonlight is set in 3 acts and takes you through the journey of Chiron, a young  fatherless African-American boy, who is bullied and roughed up by neighborhood kids and is confused about his sexuality. Chiron learns to fend for himself since his mother is a drug addict and is dealing with her own set of challenges. We watch Chiron or Little as he is known shape up from a shy young boy  to a diffident teenager and a confident adult. What rescues Chiron is love. I thought the film was how a little bit of love can go a long way in helping people.

The film is based on Tyrell Alvin McCraney’s book In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. The book is based on McCraney’s life. Ironically, both McCraney and Jenkins grew up in the same part of Miami, but did not know each other then.

We caught up with Jenkins in San Francisco when he was here for the 39th Mill Valley Film Festival. We spoke to him about the making of Moonlight and what drew him to make this film. How did he get to choose the actors, who played the central character Chiron? How did he get Naomi Harris known for her role as Money Penny in James Bond films to act in Moonlight? Tune in to find out the answers to this and other questions with Jenkins.

LISTEN: BARRY JENKINS ON THE MAKING OF “MOONLIGHT”

Moonlight stars Mahershala Ali, Naomi Harris, Trevante Rhodes, Janelle Monae, Andre Holland and Alex Hibbert. The film opens on Friday, Oct  28, 2016 in San Francisco Bay area.

Here are a couple of reviews of Moonlight from The New York Times and The Altantic,

  • Title: MOONLIGHT
  • Running Time: 110 minutes
  • Status: Film Releases on Oct 28, 2016 in SF Bay area
  • Country: USA
  • GENRE: DRAMA

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PODCAST: MATT JOHNSON ON OPERATION AVALANCHE

Operation Avalanche

Filmmaker Matt Johnson’s Operation Avalanchis set against the space race between US and the USSR during the Cold War period. The film is about the fake landing of Apollo 11 on the moon. The film was part of Johnson’s Masters project at York University in Canada. Johnson directs, acts and co-wrote the film with Josh Boles.

It took him almost 2 years to make Operation Avalanche, which made its debut at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. At one point Johnson thought he’d become a professor and that is why he went to graduate school he told us.

Johnson and Owen Wilson are Harvard graduates. who are recruited as  CIA agents. They are on a mission to uncover a Soviet mole in NASA and they suspect that it might be director Stanley Kubrick. Things take an interesting turn when they find out that America’s ambitious plans to land a man on the moon maybe in deep trouble. The duo come up with a brilliant plan of creating a fake documentary about American astronauts landing in the moon. This is where Johnson and Boles skillfully bring in all the different conspiracy theories about American astronauts landing on the moon. How they create this documentary makes for an intereting watch.

We spoke with Johnson about the making of Operation Avalanche and his penchant for conspiracy theory films. Why did he make the film? How did they shoot footage at NASA and Shepperton Studio,  where Stanley Kubrick made his films? Is there a parallel between the way software developers work and the way he works as a filmmaker when it comes to legal precedents? He takes a lot of creative clues from software developers he points out. We talked to him about what is fair use of archival footage? What does he have to say about working with lawyers for your creative projects?

While he does not believe that the American landing on the moon is not fake, it did not preclude him from making a film about it. There do exist conspiracy theories around Apollo 11’s landing on the moon.

LISTEN: MATT JOHNSON ON MAKING OF OPERATION AVALANCHE:

While Johnson believes that the American landing on the moon is not fake, it did not preclude him from making a film about it. There do exist conspiracy theories around Apollo 11’s landing on the moon. It is the secret truths that draws him into conspiracy theories and to film like Oliver Stone’s JFK. He first saw Stone’s JFK as a teen and was instantly drawn to it. It looks like he has not lost an interest in them.

  • Title: OPERATION AVALANCHE
  • Running Time: 94 minutes
  • Status: Film Releases on Sept 23, 2016 in SF Bay area
  • Country: CANADA/USA

 

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A LOOK AT 39th MILL VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL OCT 6-16, 2016

MVFFThe annual Mill Valley Film Festival, which is one of the last film festivals in California before the Oscar season starts is back this year with a fantastic mix of films. Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the festival that started the same year the first Star Wars film was released.

The 39th Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) runs from Oct  6-16, 2016. and features, shorts, documentaries, panels and live music featuring international, national and local filmmakers, actors and musicians. Gael Garcia BernalAshgar Farhadi, Emma Stone, Nicole Kidman, Annette Benning, Ewan McGregor, Joel Edgerton, and Damien Chazelle are some of the guests who will attend the festival.

German films are the focus of this year’s festival along with a section called ¡Viva El Cine! that features films from Latin America and Spain.

 

 

What is new at this year’s festival are a clutch of culinary films that pay homage to well-known chefs like Jeremiah Tower and Ella Brennan.

There are some new and interesting trends in this year’s festival like the relationship between women, films and technology. There is an interesting panel discussion on The Women Behind Hidden Figures that will feature female filmmakers behind  20th Century Fox’s new film Hidden Figures. Then there is a panel on Storytelling in Virtual Reality that will look into the  challenges and opportunities of storytelling.

This year’s festival has a list of wonderful films that poses quite a bit of challenge to movie lovers. For example take the opening night films: Damien Chazelle’s La La Land and Dennis Villeneuve’s Arrival. Both films have got great reviews. So, which film would you like to see on the opening night?

The centerpiece of the festival is Mike Mill’s 20th Century Women starring Anette Benning, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning and Lucas Jade Zumann.

The closing night film is  Director Jeff Nichols’ Loving starring Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga. The film is based on a true story about an interracial couple and how they were arrested because they violated the anti-miscegenation laws. The couple filed a law suit that went all the way to the Supreme Court, where they won their right to marry. Nichols’ previously directed Mud and Midnight Special.

Besides films there will be live music performances by various artists like Fred Hersch, Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas and Thao Nguyen among others. The live music performances will be held at Sweetwater Music Hall.

For tickets and information check out Mill Valley Film Festival’s website.

 

PODCAST: JASON COHEN ON SILICON COWBOYS

Jason Cohen of Silicon Cowboys @kamlashow.comFilmmaker Jason Cohen’s Silicon Cowboys traces the rise and fall of Compaq, the personal computer (PC) company.  Compaq was the company that challenged IBM and changed the PC landscape in the 1980s.

Compaq was founded by Rod CanionJim Harris and Bill Murto in Houston, TX. The founders were partially inspired by Silicon Valley’s culture. At one point Compaq was the fastest growing company in the tech industry. The company was eventually acquired by Hewlett-Packard (HP). In 2013 HP discontinued Compaq’s name.

We caught up with Cohen at the Computer History Museum, where Silicon Cowboys was partially filmed. We wanted to find about what drew him to make Silicon Cowboys? How was the idea born? How did Compaq change the PC landscape? And, how was Compaq’s culture different? Was he inspired by AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, a TV series that is loosely based on Compaq.

LISTEN: JASON COHEN ON SILICON COWBOYS 

Cohen is a Berkeley-based filmmaker. His short film Facing Fear was nominated for an Oscar in 2014.

Silicon Cowboys releases in the San Francisco Bay area on Friday, September 16, 2016

  • Title: SILICON COWBOYS
  • Running Time: 109 minutes
  • Status: Releasing on September 16, 2016 in theatres and VOD
  • Country: USA
  • Genre: Documentary

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Jason Cohen

 

 

silicon-cowboys

 

VIDEO: HOOKED ON FILMS WITH TIM SIKA

Tim Sika

Tim Sika

Tim Sika is hooked on films, and therefore it should come as no surprise that he is the host of Cellouloid Dreams, a radio show from San Jose and also contributes to 810 AM KGO radio station and is the President of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. As if he did not have enough on his plate he also heads the Camera Cinema Club located in Silicon Valley.

We sat down to talk to Sika about how he got hooked to films growing up in Ohio. His mother was a dancer, and she was hooked to films. It was not uncommon for Sika to be whisked away to a local cinema by his mother to catch the latest picture. His addiction to film developed over the years and when he moved to the San Francisco Bay area he became involved with the radio show and the film critics circle and the rest is history.

We also wanted to find out from Sika about some of the films that resonated with him this year like Brooklyn, Trumbo, Spotlight, Love & Mercy and others. Tune in to find what are some of the films that make it to Sika’s 2016 Oscar list.

 

FILM NOTES: JAFAR PANAHI’S TAXI AT MILL VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL

Jafar Panahi

Jafar Panahi

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s latest film Taxi is part of this year’s line-up at Mill Valley Film Festival, Oct 8-18, 2015.

This brilliant film is shot without any fancy cameras, crew, actors or sets. The film stars Panahi as the protagonist, who takes you on a tour of Teheran in his taxi. From the confines of his taxi we are introduced to a whole range of subjects in Iran. Through a series of vignettes Panahi stiches a fluid narrative that look at women’s rights, the popularity of Hollywood and American TV shows to censorship in Iran. For some viewers the film may remind them of Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten, which is also shot within the confines of a car and that is what is common to both these films.

Taxi is an evocative film that is sure to bring memories for those who grew up in a society with strong censorship rules. Under such circumstances accessing the latest films,TV shows and music is not easy. For me, Panahi’s film evoked memories of growing up in India before MTV and the liberalization of Indian economy in the 1990s. It was a challenge to get new music or films. But, somehow people managed to access these forbidden artistic creations in ingenious ways.There are always clever work- arounds and underestimating people’s resolve to get to it is something Panahi’s film reminds us all over again.

Panahi is banned from making films or traveling out of Iran. And yet, his latest film highlights how people find work-arounds and Panahi’s film clearly underscores the failure of censorship. Panahi shot the film in less than 20 days using minimum of equipment. And he had no authorization from the Iranian government for filming this project. When Taxi won an award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Panahi was not able to travel to receive the award. Instead his niece, who stars in the film, went to receive the award on his behalf.

You can watch Taxi at #MVFF38 on Oct 13th and Oct 17th 2015.

 

FILM NOTES: THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION

The Black Panthers

The Black Panthers

Filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s new documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution opened in the San Francisco Bay area on October 2, 21015. The film traces the complex history, influence and legacy of the The Black Panthers in America, and specifically in the African-American community.

The Panthers were founded in 1966 in Oakland by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Using archival footage and interviews with historians and members of the Panthers the film takes you back to a pivotal period in American history that took place right here in San Francisco Bay area. The party fought for the rights of the African-American people.

Police brutality in Oakland was the catalyst for the founding of the party and word about their method of fighting back spread quickly throughout the country. The Panthers went from a local group to a national organization and attracted the attention of local and national media. Many organization members were teenagers, who were drawn to the party and their fight against police brutality, equality and better housing. And the Panther’s rise to fame also attracted the attention of FBI’s Edgar Hoover, who launched a counter intelligence operation and infiltrated The Black Panthers. As a result of the operation the movement eventually petered away, but not before leaving  behind a strong stamp on the country and the African-American community.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution is dense and packed with information and helps you understand why this protest movement started and how it gained traction within the African-American community. We find out more about their leaders including the colorful and controversial Elridge Cleaver, the minister for information for the party. We hear from Kathleen Cleaver, Elaine Brown and others.

Nelson takes you through the complex and chequered history of The Black Panthers including both the positive and negative aspects of the movement. The film took seven years to make and the timing of the release of the film coincides with a troubling time in our history on race relations and police brutality. Telling a tidy story about the Panthers is not an easy task, but Nelson succeeds in presenting a story that demands your total attention. You do come away with some questions like why was Seale not part of the film?

I have an interview coming up with Nelson, where we talk about the film and why Seale was not part of the film.

  • Title: THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION
  • Running Time: 116 minutes
  • Status: Released Oct 2, 2015
  • Country: USA
  • Genre: DOCUMENTARY

Photo credit: Firelight Media

VIDEO: BEST OF ENEMIES: BUCKLEY vs. VIDAL

Best of Enemies is a riveting documentary film that takes you back to the 1968 Presidential elections and the intense politcal debate between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal on ABC. Buckley and Vidal represented and stood for two different visions of America during this time. The debate was not a loud one, but a civil one that was edgy and highbrow. Now, this does not mean that lines were not crossed – they did cross the line and you will have to watch the film to find out about it. What is interesting is that this politiical debate seems  to have appealed to the people at that time.

Best of Enemies is a timely film since we are at the start of the 2016 Presidential elections. The film also reminds you how much television has shaped our own political views. But more importantly, the film underscores the political punditry between Buckley and Vidal, which is largely absent from the TV and cable channels today.

I got an opportunity to interview Robert Gordon, who co-wrote and co-directed the film.  We talked to him about the making of the film. Why did they make the film now and what was it like to interview Vidal?  We also spoke about the importance of this particular political debate. We spoke to Gordon about his love for music. He has written and made films about musicians, including Muddy Waters, the famous blues musician.

 

Best of Enemies  released on Friday, Aug 7, 2015 in San Francisco Bay area.

  • Title: BEST OF ENEMIES
  • Running Time: 88 minutes
  • Status: Releasing Aug 7, 2015
  • Country: USA
  • Genre: Documentary